The crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci), which is capable of eating up to one foot of coral a day and is devastating Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is apparently susceptible to a beef-like extract that when applied to the starfish, causes an allergic reaction that breaks apart and kills the starfish in 24 hours. According to a report in the Calgary Herald, two scientists from Queensland, Australia, Dr. Jairo Rivera Posada and Prof. Morgan Pratchett were doing research on a Barrier island and pondered whether a bacterium that occurs naturally in the starfish could be “boosted” enough to damage the host starfish.
To test their idea, the scientists injected the lab solution, which was comprised of carbonates and proteins that were extracted from animal tissues, into five starfish and watched as the starfish began to break apart and die over the course of 24 hours. The boosted bacterium bloomed and attacked the starfish, the scientists said, and the starfish also had an allergic reaction to the animal proteins, which were foreign to them.
The next step in the process in coming up with a viable solution to reduce the populations of this species of starfish on the Great Barrier Reef is to determine that the protein is safe for surrounding marine life. That process won’t help the current outbreak of crown-of-thorns starfish that are attacking the reef, but could be ready in time for a future outbreak.
The Great Barrier Reef is under attack by the crown-of-thorns starfish, with an estimated loss of 42 percent of reef loss attributed to Acanthaster planci. Chemical fertilizer use in Australia is one of the factors attributed to the rise in this species’ population on the reef as these fertilizers when deposited in the ocean via runoff, causes plankton (the main source of food for the starfish at the larval stage) to flourish. As adults, these starfish feed on coral by climbing up onto them and releasing digestive enzymes onto the corals which liquefy the corals so the starfish can consume them.